Syracuse Orange 2016 Preview and Prediction
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25
#75 Syracuse Orange
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dino Babers, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sean Lewis, Mike Lynch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Ward
Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2016
Sophomore Eric Dungey returns as the presumptive starting quarterback, tasked with operating new head coach Dino Babers’ hurry-up spread offense. Dungey showcased accuracy, athleticism and a knack for playmaking last season, but a series of helmet-to-helmet hits kept him out of four games, including the last three.
He’ll likely be joined by sophomore running back Dontae Strickland in the backfield after Strickland passed returning starter Jordan Fredericks during spring ball. Strickland brings an ability to run both through and around defenders.
Junior wide receiver Steve Ishmael is back as the clear-cut top target. Plagued with staff turnover — two offensive coordinators and six quarterbacks over his first two years — Ishmael has numbers that don’t do justice to his skill set. Redshirt senior Alvin Cornelius, junior Jamal Custis and Maryland graduate transfer commit Amba Etta-Tawo are the other likely candidates to contribute at the X and Z spots. Senior Brisly Estime has moved to the slot and could become a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers.
Senior guard Omari Palmer and center Jason Emerich are the only offensive linemen who’ve started multiple games.
Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2016
While Babers expects his offense to click by the middle of Year 2, the defense could take more time adjusting to the Tampa-2. Rather than the smaller, more aggressive players predecessor Scott Shafer targeted for the linebacker and secondary positions, new DC Brian Ward wants bigger, longer athletes who can thrive in zone coverage.
The Orange do return all three starting linebackers from last season, but junior middle linebacker Zaire Franklin was limited all spring due to injury. Junior Parris Bennett returns at the strong-side spot while redshirt freshman Shyheim Cullen passed senior Marqez Hodge at weak-side linebacker in the spring.
Junior Corey Winfield and sophomore Cordell Hudson worked as the first-team corners this spring, while juniors Chauncey Scissum and Antwan Cordy and sophomore Rodney Williams are competing for two spots at safety.
Up front, the Tampa-2 relies on a lot of four-man pressures. The defensive tackles are young and promising with sophomores Chris Slayton and Steven Clark emerging as powerful forces. But the Orange return zero ends with playing experience. Redshirt freshman Jake Pickard started opposite early enrollee Kenneth Ruff (a converted linebacker) in the spring game, but the expected addition of Colorado graduate transfer De'Jon Wilson and three Class of 2016 signees — Jaquwan Nelson, Joshua Black and Kendall Coleman — makes this a position to watch in the fall.
Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2016
Lou Groza Award semifinalist Cole Murphy is back to handle kicking duties. After walking on to the team two years ago, the junior earned a scholarship and has made 29-of-38 field goals in two seasons. Redshirt freshman Sterling Hofrichter is in line to be the first-team punter with the departure of trick-play specialist Riley Dixon. Estime likely will be heavily involved in the return game.
There’s increased belief that the Orange can find some upward mobility in a tough ACC Atlantic Division. But while Babers’ offense has thrived at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, the Orange defense could take two or three recruiting cycles to find fitting personnel. Recruiting at a high level is always a challenge operating out of Central New York. And playing Clemson and Florida State each season makes a path to six wins more difficult. So whether Babers can turn Syracuse around is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure — his hiring has created optimism on a local and national level.